Big-time boxing was back in Japan this morning, and the triple-header was worth an early wake-up.
In the featherweight main event, Jhonny Gonzalez stopped Hozumi Hasegawa in the fourth round of what had been a hard-hitting, well-fought battle to that point. The opening round featured really great action, with Hasegawa looking sharp and Gonzalez starting to pick up his own pace in the latter portions of the round. Hasegawa took the second round by forcing the longer Gonzalez to come inside, while in the third, Gonzalez staggered Hasegawa a bit in the final minute, bringing himself back into the fight.
The fourth round saw the finish, as Hasegawa dipped and loaded up for a punch of his own, only to be caught square on the button by a big right hand from Gonzalez. Though the Japanese star made it to his feet, his legs were gone and referee Michael Griffin made a good call to stop the action.
If you're the sort that keeps track of the Big Four "sanctioning" body titles, this means that Gonzalez (48-7, 42 KO) would be considered a "two-division world champion," but more importantly and legitimately, this is one of the better wins of his career, and gives him some clout in a loaded featherweight division. Plenty of interesting fights could be made with Gonzalez, and he's never shown any fear of taking tough fights in the past.
Hasegawa (29-4, 12 KO) suffers another setback after last year's TKO-4 loss to another Mexican puncher, Fernando Montiel, that fight at bantamweight. After losing to Montiel, Hasegawa came back strong with a two-division jump to face legitimate prospect and then-unbeaten Juan Carlos Burgos, earning the victory in November. This time it might be harder to make that sort of rebound splash, but I don't count him out of contention at 126 because of this loss, either. Gonzalez can really fight, and losing in this one doesn't speak ill of Hasegawa.
But there are concerns. Can Hasegawa hang with the better punchers at 126? Most of the top guys at 126 can punch pretty damn well, save for Chris John and maybe Celestino Caballero, whose power I personally feel is greatly oversold. Is Hasegawa an old 30? The loss to Gonzalez should not totally overshadow the good win over Burgos, and on the right night I think Gonzalez is more than a handful for anyone at 126 except for a locked-in Yuriorkis Gamboa. But losses invite skepticism and questions, and that's just the way it is.
Co-feature recaps for Takahiro Ao-Humberto Gutierrez and Toshiaki Nishioka-Mauricio Javier Munoz after the jump.
In super featherweight action, Takahiro Ao dropped and stopped Humberto Gutierrez on a right hook to the body in the fourth round of another very good, early-ending contest. Ao (21-2-1, 10 KO) just looked like the stronger, better offensive fighter, and although he had some worrisome defensive lapses and deficiencies, he seemed largely in control of the pace and tone of the fight. Gutierrez (28-3-1, 20 KO) is a good young fighter, but it seems that in his tougher matchups, he has a habit of showing more of the "young" than the "good." At 22, he's got a ton of time to get better than he is, but the improvements do need to come or he may never go higher than he already has. Ao, 27, has now won four straight. A rematch with Vitali Tajbert might make sense next. Our own Japanese scene reporter Sidney Boquiren noted that Gutierrez did struggle with weight, and at 5'9" he definitely has the frame to move up to lightweight or beyond. Beyond just the knockout shot, Ao's body work was definitely the overall key to the fight, as he went and tried to soften the taller man almost immediately.
The televised opener wasn't as easy as most expected, but Toshiaki Nishioka maintained his hold on the title of world's best super bantamweight, scoring a ninth round knockout of Argentina's Mauricio Javier Munoz. Nishioka (38-4-3, 24 KO) was largely in control of the fight all the way, but here and there Munoz (21-3, 9 KO) would find some success, especially with the left hook. Nishioka is 34 so age is starting to become a concern, especially consider he was hit cleaner and harder in this fight far more often than he was last year against game contender Rendall Munroe. But that could simply owe to a potentially higher level of respect for his opponent going into the Munroe fight, too -- the old "fighting up and down to competition" angle. But either way, Munoz definitely proved a tougher out than he was on paper, until he ran out of gas. After the eighth round, the comparison shots of the fighters in their respective corners were telling. Munoz looked truly exhausted, while Nishioka looked like he was definitely in a fight, but overall seemed fresh and ready to go. And it was another quality fight, in a card filled with them.
Thank you to those who joined us this morning for the early call, and we'll be back later today with coverage of the David Lemieux-Marco Antonio Rubio fight on ESPN2.